Who didn’t invent it?
From fondue to the pocket knife: eight supposedly Swiss things that actually came from somewhere else.
These things may seem Swiss, but they are actually from somewhere else.
It’s considered the national flower of Switzerland – and there’s even an airline named after it. Edelweiss also invokes the feeling of home for people from Austria, Bavaria and South Tyrol. But the little flower actually originated on the high steppes of central Asia, migrating west during the last ice age and creeping up the mountains after the ice crust melted away.
At least the location is right: Mountain climbing may have been invented in Switzerland, but not by the Swiss. The British were the first to climb the highest Pennine Alps in the mid-19th century and founded the world’s first Alpine club. They almost always took Swiss mountain guides with them on their bold adventures, however.
Fondue may now be the national dish of Switzerland, but it’s been a staple in the French and Italian Alps for centuries. The current recipe, with just cheese and wine, was likely first made in Savoy, in what is now France. Presumably it spread from Savoy to western Switzerland, where it quickly became very popular.
Humans probably discovered how to make cheese soon after the domestication of grazing animals more than 10,000 years ago, when faced with the task of preserving great quantities of milk. It’s certainly possible that even older traces of cheese production will be found in the Alps one day, but the oldest clear evidence of cheese-making comes from present-day Poland about 7,500 years ago.
The cog railway
England pioneered this as well. In 1812 the world’s first cog railway began operation in the lowlands there. The United States was the first to climb up a mountain, opening a cog railway on Mount Washington, New Hampshire, in 1869. It wasn’t until 1871 that Switzerland opened the Vitznau-rigi Bahn – a highly successful project that triggered a mountain railway boom in Europe.
No one knows who invented this card game that has become Switzerland’s “national sport,” but it was certainly not the Swiss. Mercenaries from Holland brought the game to Switzerland at the end of the 18th century. The words “jass” (jack) and “näll” (the secondbest card) originate from the Dutch.
The pocket knife
Here we have to yield to Austria: The oldest known jackknife, from Hallstatt in Upper Austria, is 2,500 years old. Ancient Romans used pocket knives as well. The famous Swiss Army knife, on the other hand, was invented in the 19th century.
The cuckoo clock
American actor Orson Welles helped fuel the myth that these clocks are originally from Switzerland. In the 1949 film “The Third Man,” he improvised a monologue claiming that “in Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” In truth, the clocks are characteristic of the Black Forest. Where the first cuckoo chimed the hour, however, is unknown.